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Guest Post: The Story Engine 2010 Pt 2 by Helen Bang

Helen’s notes from Day Two of The Story Engine 2010 – thanks Helen!

New Horizons

Andy Smith from Mere Mortals and Ian Fenton presented a case study of the alternative reality game “Let’s Make Mischief” and argued for screenwriters to think beyond a single platform.

Ian began with a brief look at the history of entertainment; first there were games like chess and hopscotch, then there was cinema and television, the new online games combine both and are a pioneering field for writers.

Examples included (Lewis Hamilton has a double life as an art thief) and where people sprint around London claiming grids, using phone boxes and claiming real prizes.

YouTube, Blogs etc. already exist so setting up is relatively low cost.

The idea was to have a game tie-in with the film festival. The plot was as follows: the film reels for the closing film at the festival have been stolen by someone in a rabbit costume. The idea was to work out who had done it and why.

Characters were given pages on Facebook. There were clues in the promotional poster. No one could guess the password so other clues had to be given. The thing took on a life of its own, for example participants suggesting they should check out a real caravan site, so they had to keep tweaking the story to respond to the feedback.

The key questions were who had taken the film, why had they taken it and how were we going to get the film back?

The treasure hunt around Newcastle was arranged for the last night of the festival. Participants had to win a game of dominoes in order to get the next clue. They were then given a camera and had to re enact a scene from a film.

The event was very popular!

What’s this got to do with us?

The market is very noisy. Audiences are seeking new experiences. Technology allows you to build an audience and even develop an audience for a project before it is made.

Digital Connections

Panel: Malcolm Wright, Jason Arnopp, Paul Smith.

How can writers used new and emerging online technologies to collaborate and build audiences for their work?

Followers, friends or fans? Scott Kersner was recommended.

You have to be different in order to stand out. What are the opportunities for participation, ie talking with, not at? You have to understand your traffic (use Google analytics). How do people find you?

Understand the power of links. – these are aimed at deaf kids. A project by Darlington Health Authority has now developed to reach over 200,000 deaf children.

Paul Smith – the twich Hiker – he travelled around the world using Twitter to get lifts, accommodation etc. He only used twitter so relied on the goodwill of strangers.

Jason Arnopp – Tempting Fates: an online drama. He said you should have a blog to increase your profile.

Commissioners – some blog quite heavily. Peter Salmon at BBC North is looking at ways to talk to writers. – a site to check out.
Also,, and

Write or Die – this programme deletes stuff if you stop writing!

The short story market is growing because reading one fits handily into commuter travel time.

Funny People:

Panel: Gill Isles, Oriane Messina, Fay Rusling.

A look at how comedy is produced.

Gill from Baby Cow is producing her 6th series of Ideal with Johnny Vegas. She also produced the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special.

Oriane and Fay write together. Green Wing, Pinky and Perky, Smack the Pony etc. They also work in LA.

What are producers looking for?

Baby Cow sell to BBC3. The audience is 16-35
BBC4 has one comedy slot. They like highbrow comedy and have little money.
BBC2 – female-led comedies with names attached.
BBC1 is for established comedy stars.
Channel 4 – Comedy Labs, showcases (for more experienced comics)
Sky 1 – are looking for comedy
Sky Arts – Doing Chekhov plays with comedians at centre.

There’s a big turnover of staff and projects get thrown out. What they’re looking for changes all the time. You need to have more than one iron in the fire.

Think of a vehicle for a comedian you like. What would they like to do?

Do treatments (one page) of an idea you can sell in one line.

Don’t put your heart and soul into something which may not get made, eg writing a full sitcom series.

Video pitches – can be a good idea. They express how funny an idea can be.

There was a general agreement in aiming for 3 jokes per page with a punchline at the end.

The point of a treatment is to get a meeting – not to get the project made.

In conversation with Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley

The very experienced comedy writing team talked about their career and working methods.

One idea in ten is any good. They recommended separating the creative and editing process.

Allow yourself to fail.

They use index cards to plot episodes. Then they move to the computer for the script.

Talking out loud with a writing partner helps eliminate clunky dialogue.

If you can rely on someone in the room to agree with you it’s a good idea!

Animation – the most collaborative thing you’ll ever do. They had 12 different storyboarders and things are redone over and over.

They did 18 episodes of Slacker Cats for American network.

Learn to pitch. It’s very important.

Also – beware, animation is always a buy-out, there are no residuals as with other scriptwriting.


There was a choice of workshops on the second day, I opted to do Lisa Holdsworth’s TV’s Five Act Structure.

Lisa explained how an episode of New Tricks is structured.

It begins with a pre-title string. This is the grabber. It sets up the world, has a self-contained story, includes all four lead characters and introduces them to the case. It also sets the tone of the show.

Act I – the dreaded exposition scene. In the office with a white board is the simplest and it works. This scene is calm and analytical.

In the first draft Lisa recommends bunging everything in – a kitchen sink draft. It must be too long or you’ve probably not got enough story. It will be condensed down later.

Set up the red herrings. All the suspects. You must see the person who did it in this act (or you’re cheating). Set up motives. What can you fool the audience with? But you must pay off the set-ups (red herrings).

Set up the conflicts between the lead characters; their competing theories.

Try to find an interesting location (the example episode was about ice cream wars and included interesting factories). Think how it’s going to LOOK.

The Hmm moment… that doesn’t add up.

Remember characters can lie. But sparingly and be sure to uncover the lie and the reason for it.

Some old ideas, eg hidden homosexuality, corruption have been done to death and aren’t used so much now.

Act II. Confusion. You must gradually knock off all the red herrings. Drop the case-cracking info into LANE’s brain.

You have to solve the cold case and a current case too. But don’t have too much of a jump or be too obvious.

Set pieces? In this episode Lane blows up his kitchen.

Final scene – all bets are off. It’s not the prime suspect.

The Aha moment – Lane works out who it is.

Act 3 – all about action, doors kicked in etc. It is frantically paced, no time for standing around. There’s a little bit of why he dunnit, but not too much. Crack on and make the viewer excited about the present.

Ta da – the arrest moment. They did it.

It never takes more than 4 days to solve a case in New Tricks land.

Act 5 – the Coda. The conclusion. We never see the suspects again or the court case which follows. It’s just the principals saying how sad, good, what has been learned and ends on a happy/optimistic note (the tone of the show).

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1 thought on “Guest Post: The Story Engine 2010 Pt 2 by Helen Bang”

  1. Hi Helen,

    Re: New Tricks Workshop

    Just to say that you don't have to see all four New Tricks main cast in your pre-titles sting. However, we do centre on who is goign to be the lead in the case. We try to single out a character or a partnership within the team in each ep.

    Lisa H x

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